Beauty and the Beast (2017)
Perhaps continuing in the vein of disturbing pretexts for relationships, Beauty and the Beast is not without controversy. The original fairy tale entirely involves Belle being sold to the Beast by her father and learning to love him; the 1991 Disney film updated the heroine and made the story be rather about the Beast being tamed. The 1991 film has been one of my favourites since childhood and I have to admit that I never thought that Belle fell in love with the Beast simply because she had to. The story was always very clear that the Beast was the one who needed to earn her love.
The 2017 live-action Disney film follows the same premise as its predecessor – namely, that the Beast needs to learn to love Belle and earn back her love (and in the process, also learning to love himself, which seems to be a new addition, or at least more overtly displayed). The fact that Belle is kept as his prisoner in his castle – albeit a very large castle with lots of freedom within it – seems to be the biggest hurdle for some viewers to overcome. However, as is made plainly obvious in the films (and in the original fairy tale too, for that matter), the Beast cannot earn Belle’s love until he releases her from being his prisoner. She falls in love with him because they both have common interests and because she is lonely, but she still cannot wholeheartedly love him because she is afraid of being eaten.
Now that we’ve got that awkward bit out of the way…
The remake of Beauty and the Beast is just as enchanting as its predecessor. The effects are stunning, the characters are believable, the plot holes are mostly solved, and the music is powerful. The new songs are gripping and the old favourites have a lot more staying power when they are sung by real people onscreen. (I suppose that it does help that there is a stage version of the show already.) The story lends itself well to being a movie musical without being cartoonish. The new and expanded characters feel intrinsic to the story and it is easy to forget that they did not exist in the animated version.
The one tiny problem was Emma Watson as Belle. She did a wonderful job in the role and she embodies everything that Belle should be (in real life) – but therein lies the issue. While all of the other characters felt real, Belle came across a bit too much like “Emma Watson playing Belle”. This is likely due to the fact that all of the other actors, to varying extents, are disguised. Belle, on the other hand, doesn’t even have the brown hair that she does in the 1991 film! Would it have been too much out of the budget for Emma to dye her hair brown? Or wear a brown wig, as many of the actresses who have played Belle onstage have done? When so much attention has gone into making the other actors fit into their roles, the fact that they basically left Emma untouched is jarring. Honestly, the audience would still recognize her with brown hair! But she would have seemed a bit more like Belle.
I am not going to really complain about Emma’s singing – I thought it was fairly good and perfectly how I would expect an eighteenth-century Frenchwoman with no singing training to sound like. Unfortunately, not all of her lyrics were adapted to suit her voice. They were written for Broadway belters, who seem quite out of place in a live-action film.
Otherwise, I was simply mesmerized by the film – and not just because I was stuck staring at it through 3D glasses awkwardly propped over my existing glasses (and therefore could not look away for fear of being extremely disoriented). It was everything that it promised to be.
Was it better than its predecessor?
Yes, in the sense that it feels richer and more complete. Yes, in the sense that it feels more magical and yet more realistic. No, in the sense that both are wonderful movies films with different strengths. I enjoyed them both.
And eventually, I’m going to have to watch this one in French too.